Customer expectations are higher than ever before, and your customers are scrutinizing your business more intensely than ever. They’re comparing their experience with your brand to the easy, fast, and personalized experiences they’re having with the best of the best. And it’s these customer-focused businesses that get to reap the benefits of renewed loyalty and competitive advantage.
With 89 percent of companies competing primarily on the basis of customer experience, customer focus has never been more important. But there remains a gap in how many companies think they’re customer-focused compared to how many customers agree. In fact, while 80 percent of companies believe they deliver “super experiences,” only 8 percent of customers hold that same opinion.
The good news is that customer focus can be improved. And it starts by deepening your understanding of what customer focus means and building an effective customer focus strategy.
What is customer focus?
In its simplest form, customer focus means prioritizing your customers’ needs. Customer-focused businesses foster a company culture dedicated to enhancing customer satisfaction and building strong customer relationships.
But customer focus isn’t a responsibility that falls only on customer support, or any single team, to earn for the entire business. While customer service skills are key to customer focus, customer-focused companies show that the customer experience matters across the organization, at every step of the customer journey—from the honesty of their marketing campaigns and the transparency of their pricing models to the ease of their sales cycle and the quality of their actual products or services.
“Customer focus is the lens by which you analyze all your interactions with your customers,” says Jonathan Brummel, senior manager, Premier Support at Zendesk. “It’s a core value to who you want to be as a company and how you want your customers to feel about you.”
The importance of customer focus
Customer focus is the foundation for customer loyalty because it’s your promise to your customers that you’ll put them first. And according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020, 74 percent of customers feel loyal to a particular company, with 52 percent reporting that they go out of their way to buy from their favorite brands.
What’s more, roughly half of customers say they would switch to a competitor after just one bad experience. And that number jumps to 80 percent in the case of more than one bad experience. Becoming a customer-focused organization is important for helping you ensure that customers leave the experience feeling good about your brand because it requires you to hold them as the guiding force behind everything you do.
But becoming a customer-focused company doesn’t mean you’re suddenly a perfect business that never makes mistakes. That kind of mindset isn’t practical and it isn’t honest. Rather, customer focus is important for building customer relationships that are more human, which involves learning from your customers and using those valuable insights to get better.
Tips for building an effective customer focus strategy
There are two levels to building an effective customer focus strategy: an emotional level and an operational level. A great customer focus strategy enables you to form real, honest, and transparent relationships with your customers, while also guiding you in setting the right tools and processes in place to do so. Here are six tips to help keep both relationship management and process improvement top of mind:
1.) Encourage collaboration
Becoming a customer-focused organization requires teams to work cross-functionally to create a consistent, overall better experience. In fact, more than 70 percent of customers expect companies to collaborate on their behalf. For example, support teams and sales teams might collaborate so an agent can flag sales when a customer is interested in learning about a new product or a sales rep can redirect a more technical question to an agent who specializes in that area.
And collaboration pays off—sales and support teams that collaborate have more leads, more deals created, and more deals won, according to Benchmark research, and that’s just one example of two teams that might work together.
But collaboration shouldn’t slow down your teams’ productivity because that only makes things more complicated for the customer. That’s why effectively collaborating on the customer’s behalf requires a connective layer of tissue that integrates customer data across departments so teams can easily share insights without disrupting their workflow or exposing the customer to what’s going on behind the scenes.
2.) Make your customers feel heard
Behind every customer is a story. But customers don’t want to have to repeat that story every time they interact with your brand. And if customers feel ignored because they have to repeat themselves, they won’t be likely to remember your company as customer-focused.
“Making the customer feel heard is a huge part of customer focus,” says Brummel. “And when they don’t feel heard, that’s when the experience can quickly go south.”
Imagine having to reintroduce yourself to a coworker every time you see them in the office kitchen and remind them of what you last spoke about. It’s neither personal nor customer-focused, but that’s often how businesses communicate with their customers.
To ensure satisfied customers that feel heard, companies will need that same connective layer of tissue to give them the full story on the customer, such as their name, account information, or when they last reached out. This arm teams with the relevant context and conversation history they need to give customers the personalized experiences they expect.
3.) Meet your customers where they are
It might seem easier to focus on a single communication channel and providing a great experience there. But communicating according to your customers’ channels of choice is a powerful driver of loyalty, according to recent Zendesk research.
The data is clear: A great customer experience is one that’s easy. Customers don’t want to have to put effort into reaching your brand, and nor should they. That’s why customer-focused companies meet their customers where they are, so they can reach out however and whenever they want.
Looking into the demographics of your customers and considering the types of questions you see most often can be eye-opening. Industry best practices might tell you to offer a particular channel, but you might find that a significant amount of your customers prefer a mobile-first option. You might consider adding in WhatsApp, SMS, or another mobile messaging channel to your mix because that’s where your customers are.
Again, that 360 view of the customer will be important for connecting conversations across channels to ensure that context moves with the customer so your business can provide fast and personal responses no matter when or how they reach out.
4.) Use feedback to get better
Knowing how to handle customer feedback is another important factor in becoming a customer-focused company. Instead of approaching customer complaints as a game of dodgeball, customer-focused companies amplify the voice of the customer and use their feedback to create a better experience.
This might include sending your customers surveys or opening an online community where customers can share their experiences with your product or service or vote on new feature requests. Creating a feedback loop with your customers is important because your relationship with them, like any healthy relationship, should be two-sided.
“Treating customers like partners and collaborators as opposed to consumers of your good is one of the first steps to creating a customer-focused culture,” says Brummel.
5.) Combine data with empathy
With the increasing amount of data available, companies no longer have to guess what their customers want or decide for them. Instead, they can look to the trends.
But taking a customer-focused approach to data doesn’t mean using data blindly. Rather, it involves combining data with empathy, which means adding context to data, applying data compassionately, and using data to enhance customer intimacy—developing insights into who is using your product and what they are looking for.
For instance, your product team might align a product update with customer support data to ensure change is contextual and relevant to those it impacts. Or, instead of sending every customer the same email, a marketing team might adjust content based on where each customer is in the customer journey or what emails they previously opened.
But siloed data often prevents companies from using it emphatically and in a way that truly benefits the customer because they lack the full context to do so. For starters, you’ll need to connect insights across systems and software to effectively manage and interpret your data.
6.) Leverage AI to proactively meet customers’ needs
Customer-focused businesses aren’t just reactive to what their customers need, they also proactively meet their expectations. And with the help of AI, proactive experiences don’t have to be complicated or costly. For instance, support teams might use machine learning to predict customer satisfaction to proactively reduce customer complaints. Or, sales teams might deploy a chatbot to proactively welcome customers, before they abandon their cart or demo request form due to lingering questions.
Customer focus examples
Even after building an effective customer focus strategy, becoming a customer-focused business doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice and continuous adjustment to get right. Here are a few examples of how to become a customer-focused company from four companies who did, with customer focus quotes to keep you motivated along the way.
“Customer service shouldn’t just be a department, it should be the entire company.”
-Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
To show that customer experience matters across the business, Zappos connects the organization through customer-centric values. For example, every employee, no matter what team they’re on or what level their role is, takes customer service calls during their first two weeks at the company.
2.) The Four Seasons
“The reason for our success is no secret. It’s the Golden Rule–the simple idea that we should treat others the way we would want to be treated.”
-Isadore Sharp, Founder, Chairman & CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
The Four Seasons redefined luxury with its white-glove customer service that’s based on building real, human relationships with customers. For instance, to make it even easier to reach a real person whenever guests need, it created a concierge-like service where they can reach out on Twitter, Facebook Messenger, or SMS like they would a friend to seamlessly arrange spa reservations, get restaurant recommendations, and access special services.
“Our customers’ voices are vital when it comes to product innovation. Listening to and acting on customer feedback prevents myopic thinking and helps us constantly improve.”
-Hetal Shah, CX, Product, and Operations leader at Postmates
Postmates’ CX team partners with their product team and analytics team to ensure customer feedback informs key product decisions, which drives measurable improvements, such as reducing customer cancellations with product updates.
“Negative interactions happen in any contact center–it’s a fact of life. Our role as CX leaders is to ensure our agents learn from these negative interactions and then address the issue directly with customers.”
-Deja Whitehead, senior manager of Customer Operations & Communications at Birchbox
Unhappy customers are inevitable. What’s important to becoming customer-focused is how you handle them. Birchbox uses service recovery to flag customer complaints and then turn the experience around to repair the relationship.
When businesses start becoming more customer-focused, they become a more human brand that’s driven by relationships, rather than profits or requirements. If loyalty is something your company is looking to improve, try adjusting your focus to the customer—you might surprise yourself with what you can accomplish with a simple change in frame of mind.